FRISCO, Texas – In Kony Ealy's mind, everything worked out.
Ealy, the fourth-year pro signed in April, was a serious draft candidate for the Cowboys back in 2014. Instead, Dallas traded up in the second round to select fellow defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, 28 picks ahead of Ealy.
Lawrence is now a Pro Bowler, but Ealy made a name for himself in Carolina with three sacks in the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver. Now he's a Cowboy – the place he always thought he could be – playing alongside Lawrence.
"It was kind of a good thing that I didn't come here (first), obviously," Ealy said. "Now we're both on the same team. With him and the other guys, it's going to be a fun year for us."
Ealy is currently rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery and says he's aiming for full participation by the start of training camp. When healthy, he's a versatile pass rusher who can play either defensive end spot.
Dallas seems like a better fit than his previous two stops, the Jets and Patriots, where he often rushed as a stand-up linebacker.
Ealy says defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme is much more similar to Carolina's, where he tallied 14 sacks from 2014-16.
"Getting back to the system I'm used to being in," he said.
Marinelli has always liked a large pass-rushing rotation. Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford return as starters, with 2017 draft picks Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper competing for snaps with 2018 fourth-round pick Dorance Armstrong.
Ealy should add experience when he's back on the field.
"We think he's a good, young player with a lot of potential," head coach Jason Garrett said in April after the Cowboys signed Ealy. "One of the things we try to do with our team is promote competition at every position. That really is the reason for the decisions that we make in the offseason, to create a competitive environment at every position across the board. We feel like that brings out the best in everybody.
"He's a young developing player and we feel like he's got a lot of football in front of him."